Category:Red wine

Wine of the week: La Fiera Montepulciano 2017

The La Fiera Montepulciano is Hall of Fame quality $10 wine from one of the world’s best quality and value importers

Premiumization continues its rampage through the wine business. It’s getting more difficult to find wine costing less than $15 that’s worth drinking; I’m writing a longer and more thorough post about the premiumization crisis that will run in the next week or so. Until then, be grateful for wines like the La Fiera Montepulciano, which still offer value and quality for $10.

I’ve tasted the La Fiera Montepulciano ($10, purchased, 13%) twice over the past four months, and it has gotten earthier and more interesting That’s an impressive achievement for any wine, especially for a $10 wine, and especially these days.

That it has done that is a testament to the importer, Winesellers Ltd. in suburban Chicago, whose wines show up a lot on the blog (and who I wrote about recently in a wine business trade magazine). The Sager family, which has owned Winesellers for 40 years, doesn’t follow trends. It searches for value, and would that more importers did that anymore.

The La Fiera is an Italian red made with the montepulciano grape in the Montepulciano d/Abruzzo region. As such, it comes from a less well known region and is made with a less respected grape, which usually means better pricing for consumers.

In this wine, it also means a little earthiness is starting to show, and the wine is a touch heavier and more serious than it was in February. Again, impressive for a $10 label. Look for zippy cherry fruit, balance, and tannins hiding in the background.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the $10 Hall of Fame. It’s a terrific food wine as well as a reminder what an importer can do who cares about the consumer and not focus groups.

Imported by Winesellers Ltd.

Barefoot wine review 2019: Cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay

Barefoot wine review 2019Barefoot wine review 2019: The cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay have a dollop or three of residual sugar, but otherwise taste like they should

This is the 12th Barefoot wine review I’ve written, and one thing is as aggravating today, for Barefoot wine review 2019, as it was 12 years ago: No screwcap. Why E&J Gallo, Barefoot’s owner, still uses a cork closure on most of its labels is beyond me. The only time these wines are “aged” is after they’re opened, when they sit in the refrigerator for another day. A screwcap would make that kind of aging so much easier.

The Barefoot wine review 2019 features the non-vintage cabernet sauvignon ($5, purchased, 12.5%) and the non-vintage chardonnay ($5, purchased, 13%). Both, save for a dollop or three of residual sugar, are among the best Barefoot efforts in years. Yes, that’s damning with faint praise, given the quality of the wines in many of the previous reviews. And their sweetness left that dried out feeling in my mouth for 20 or 30 minutes after tasting. But that Barefoot varietal wines taste like their varietal is worth noting.  Put a couple of ice cubes in the glass, and the wines are certainly drinkable, if too simple and not very subtle.

The cabernet tastes of dark berry fruit (boysenberry?), and there are soft tannins, a certain acidity, and restrained fake oak. No chocolate cherry foolishness here, though the sweetness gets more noticeable with each sip and may annoy wine drinkers who expect cabernet to be dry.

The chardonnay, ironically, is less sweet than the cabernet. Take away the sugar, and it’s a pleasant California-style chardonnay — almost crisp green apple fruit, that chardonnay style of mouth feel, and just enough fake oak to round out the wine. There’s even a sort of finish, which was about the last thing I expected. Once again, though, the sweetness gets in the way —  would that Barefoot had the courage of its convictions to make a dry wine dry.

More about Barefoot wine:
Barefoot wine review 2018
Barefoot wine review 2017
Barefoot wine review 2016

Wine to drink when the electricity goes out – yet again

electricityIt’s two red wines for the 2019 version of Dallas’ almost annual major power failure

I lost power for five hours on Tuesday, which was two days after the storm that came through Dallas on Sunday. That’s the storm that caused almost 300,000 outages, damaged thousands of homes, and led to one person’s death. I was lucky, even with the two-day thing; many in my neighborhood and the nearby Lake Highlands area were still without electricity almost a week later.

As such, this post started as a screed aimed at the Texas Legislature and the state’s utility regulators, whose boobery and incompetence have made our almost annual major electricity failures possible. But I threw that one away. You don’t need to read that, and especially on a wine blog.

So know that I drank a couple of bottles of red wine on Tuesday night, and I recommend them if your power goes out and there isn’t any ice to chill the whites. In addition, you can check out the other wine and power failure post — Wine to drink when the power goes out, 2014 edition — if you need more suggestions. Which, hopefully, you won’t.

And, if nothing else, all the power outages have helped me figure out a way to bake bread on top of the stove. I had a loaf rising when we lost power. Rather than dump the dough, I rigged a contraption using a cast iron skillet, a baking rack, and wok. It mostly worked, too.

The Tuesday night reds:

Renzo Masi Erta e China 2017 ($15, sample, 13.5%): This Italian red blend (half sangiovese and half cabernet sauvingon) was surprisingly balanced and Italian-like. Maybe it was my mood sitting in the dark, but I expected something soft and annoying. It had that wonderful tart cherry Italian fruit, a touch of minearalty, and some backbone from the cabernet. It needs food, but is well worth drinking even when the lights are on. Imported by HB Wine Merchants

Angulo Innocenti Malbec Nonni 2016 ($8, purchased, 13.3%): This Argentine red is “thumb and forefingers touched together” close from being a $10 Hall of Fame wine. It’s a significant step up from the usual $10 malbec, which means it tastes like wine and not vodka mixed with grape juice. The black fruit is more balanced, some tannins and acidity peek out, and the wine is enjoyable in a way most of the others aren’t. And this comes from someone who doesn’t much care for New World malbec. Imported by Vineyard Brands

Father’s Day wine 2019

Father's Day wineFather’s Day wine 2019: Four wines to make Dad proud

Every year at Father’s Day, we’re told to buy Dad a big red wine. Because, after all, isn’t that what Dad is supposed to want? Maybe. But the most important thing to know is to buy Dad what he likes for Father’s Day wine 2019. Keep the blog’s wine gift-giving guidelines in mind throughout the process: Don’t buy someone wine that you think they should like; buy them what they will like.

Father’s Day wine 2019 suggestions:

Eberle Syrah Steinbeck Vineyard 2017 ($32, sample, 14.2%): This red wine from California’s Paso Robles is balanced and almost nuanced — which doesn’t happen all that often with Paso syrah. Look for black fruit, a little earth, a just enough richness, and a wine that is clean and full on the finish. Highly recommended, assuming the price doesn’t scare you off.

Ryder Estate Pinot Noir Rose 2018 ($14, sample, 13%): This is what the once-legendary Toad Hollow rose demonstrated to in the old days — tart cherry, a little ripe strawberry, and a long and pleasing finish that shows off the fruit. Not sweet, but fruity in the California style. Ryder is making a name for itself as one of the best $10 and $12 producers in the country. Highly recommended.

Pedroncelli Friends.white 2018 ($12, purchased, 12.9%): Yes, a corny name, but this California white blend from one of my favorite producers is always well made and a value. The gewurtztraminer balances the sauvignon blanc, but doesn’t sweeten the wine. Pleasantly tart, fresh, and enjoyable — some citrus (lemon?) and an appealing crispness. Highly recommended.

Chateau St. Jean Brut Rose NV ($15, sample, 13%): I expected almost nothing from this California bubbly, and was once again proved wrong — taste the wine before you judge it. Quality charmat method wine with a little more style and appeal than Prosecco, including some very nice berries and a creaminess that one doesn’t expect in charmat sparkling.

More Father’s Day wine:
Father’s Day wine 2018
Father’s Day wine 2017
Father’s Day wine 2016
Expensive wine 118: Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2013

Wine of the week: Alain Brumont Tannat-Merlot 2015

Brumont tannat-merlotThe Brumont tannat-merlot shows the tannat grape to its best advantage in a delicious $10 wine

During a recent Skype tasting for the American Wine Society, someone asked me about tannat. It’s a red grape, very geeky, best known in South America. When it’s made as a varietal wine, the result is often hard, tannic, and not all that enjoyable. But when it’s blended, like the Brumont tannat-merlot from Gascony in France, it can be a wine of the week.

I’ve tasted three bottles of this vintage of the Brumont Tannat-Merlot ($10, purchased, 13.5%) over the past three years, and each one has been different. Who knew there would be such a variation in bottle age for a $10 wine?

But that’s the tannat at work, and it’s also worth noting that the 2015 is the vintage in most stores. As such, the third  tasting was a delight – some of the tannat’s heartiness was still there, but the rough edges were gone, softened by the merlot. But this is not a soft wine – there’s not any hint of sweetness or too ripe black fruit (blackberry?), and the tannins and acidity remain part of the wine’s still complete structure. Hence, a food wine, and ideal for summer barbecue, burgers, and especially bratwurst.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame.

Imported by Kindred Vines

Ask the WC 19: Supermarket wine, plastic wine bottles, corked wine

supermarket wineThis edition of Ask the WC: Understanding supermarket wine, plus plastic wine bottles and returning corked wine to the store

Because the customers always have questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular feature. You can Ask the Wine Curmudgeon a wine-related question .

Guru of cheap wine:
Your review the other day about the Evanta malbec from Aldi said it was a supermarket wine. I don’t understand. What is that?
Likes cheap wine

Dear Likes:
There are two kinds of supermarket wine — more generally, mass market wine of varying quality made by the biggest producers and sold mostly in supermarkets. More specifically, and what I was talking about with the Evanda, is wine made exclusively for supermarkets, the private label wine made famous in Europe for quality and value and that we don’t see much of in the states. These private label are only sold in  one retailer, like Two-buck Chuck in Trader Joe’s.

Hi, Wine Curmudgeon:
What are your thoughts about plastic wine bottles?
Alternate wine

Dear Alternate:
Plastic wine bottles are another of my quixotic quests (like the Linux desktop). They are a terrific, non-traditional way to bottle wine that the wine business has shown almost no interest in. Plastic bottles — which are the same size as glass — were supposed to be the next big thing in the 1990s and again last decade, but nothing ever happened. Their advantages are obvious: Much lighter than glass, so cheaper transportation costs, more durable, and easier to recycle. But they never became popular. But then again, we’re still using corks, so why should I be surprised?

Hello WC:
Can you return a bottle of wine to the store if it’s corked or off in some way?
Loyal reader

Dear Loyal:
Of course. Just make sure you have the receipt and return it in a timely manner. Having said that, some stores have goofy return policies where they’ll charge you a restocking fee or only issue store credit. And some stores, even though they say they’ll accept returns, get cranky about it. Then you know not to shop there again. As noted many times here before, the best independent retailers want your business over the long haul, so will be happy to take a flawed bottle back.

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
Ask the WC 18: Sweet red wine, varietal character, wine fraud
Ask the WC 17: Restaurant-only wines, local wine, rose prices
Ask the WC 16: Grocery store wine, Millennials, canned wine

Wine of the week: Evanta Malbec 2017

evanta malbecAldi’s Evanta malbec is what supermarket private label should be — $10 or $12 worth of wine for $4 of $5

May 22 update: The 2018 version of this is now in more stores, and it was disappointing. It’s much more commercial than the 2017 — soft, very ripe fruit, and missing the acidity of the 2017. It’s still worth $4, but it’s nowhere near as interesting as the 2017.

Is is possible? Has Aldi finally hit the private label jackpot with the $4 Evanta malbec? I think so.

The Evanta malbec ($4, purchased, 12.9%) comes as close to Aldi’s European wines for quality and value as any wine I’ve tasted that the chain sells in the U.S. It’s even on a par with the long gone and much lamented Vina Decana, which is probably the best value/quality wine the discount grocer has offered in this country.

The Evanta malbec is what supermarket private label should be — $10 or $12 worth of wine for $4 of $5. It offers better quality and more varietal character than many Argentine malbecs that cost $15 or $18, and there’s no chocolate cherry fake oak or too ripe fruit in an attempt to appeal to the so-called American palate. Instead, the Evanta has blueberry fruit, almost nuanced oak, and enough acidity so that you can tell it’s malbec and not fruit juice and vodka. Plus, it’s somehow fresh and not cloying, almost impossible to do with a wine at this price.

Highly recommended. This is the kind of wine to buy a case of and keep around the house. I’m going to do that, and I don’t much care for New World malbec. It’s that well made and that much of a value.

Imported by Pampa Beverages